2015 ACC Preview

Welcome to a new season of College Football! I can smell the Barbecue in the air, hear the fight songs, and picture the bone-crushing hits already. This is the 3rd season of Simplified Football covering College Football and giving you detailed predictions for each week’s best games, and giving you previews of each conference. We’ll start with the Atlantic Coast Conference this year.


Last Season:

Florida State won its third straight ACC Championship and went on to lose in the first round of the first ever Playoffs to Oregon. They are 27-1 over the last 2 seasons. Georgia Tech won the coastal and was the ACC’s representative in the Orange Bowl. The ACC put 11 teams into a bowl game (out of 14 teams), with only Virginia, Syracuse, and Wake Forest missing out. They finished 4-7 in those bowl games. Four teams finished in the top 25; FSU (5th), GT (8th), Clemson (15th), and Louisville (24th).


2015 Overview:

Much has stayed the same in the ACC as FSU and Clemson are still the overwhelming favorites. However Clemson is the favorite to win the Atlantic Division and the ACC this year. The Coastal looks to be a battle as every team has a legit chance of winning the Coastal title. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech seem to be the favorites in the media. The ACC again has a slate of high-profile Out Of Conference (OOC) games that can directly affect the perception of the league in the 2015 season.

Sept 3-7 – UNC v South Carolina (in Charlotte); Louisville v Auburn (in Atlanta); Virginia @ UCLA; Ohio St @ Virginia Tech

Sept 12 – Notre Dame @ Virginia

Sept 19 – GT @ ND; Nebraska @ Miami

Oct 3 – ND @ Clemson

Nov 28 – Clemson @ So Carolina; FSU @ Florida; Georgia @ GT


Clemson (4.4):

Offense – Their offense will depend on how healthy Sophomore Phenom Deshaun Watson can stay. When healthy he is the best QB in the ACC, and arguably the most talented in the nation. He will play behind one of the ACC’s best offensive line, and has plenty of options surrounding him. If Watson remains healthy all year then Clemson will likely have the best offense in the ACC and one of the better offenses in the nation. With one caveat, how will their offense do without Coach Chad Morris calling the plays?

Defense – Defensively Clemson lost a lot of players from last year’s elite defense (not ACC, but nation). They will still have one of the more talented defenses in the ACC this year, particularly at DL. However their playoff hopes will rely on how well that defense does outside of the ACC (against ND and So Car).

Overall – Coach Dabo Swinney has steadily been building a very talented roster and stocking Clemson with SEC-level talent. Overall this is perhaps his most talented team since he took over the reins at Clemson. However with the loss of Offensive Coordinator Morris and a lot of good experienced players on the defense they will go as Deshaun Watson takes them. They will be talented to compete with ANY team in the nation. They really are a year away.

ACC Win Shares: 5.32 (prediction 7-1)

Overall Win Shares: 8.36 (prediction 9-3)


Florida State (4.6):

Offense – They lost pretty much their entire offensive roster.  Including 7 draft picks. What they have returning is a few sophomore stars that started as True Freshman last year and a lot of talented players surrounding them. The biggest thing to note is transfer QB Everette Golson, who took Notre Dame to the National Championship game as a Freshman 3 years ago, before getting into academic trouble and losing a QB battle last year (mainly due to turnover problems). If Golson and Fisher can solve the turnover problems that plagued the offense last year and plagued Golson at Notre Dame then they can have a very explosive offense. The offensive line is completely new, but quite talented. Their skill position players are among the most talented in the entire country, but all quite young. How they gel as an offensive unit with Golson will determine how high they can go.

Defense – Defensively FSU lost 4 Draft picks that all should challenge for playing time in the NFL this year. However none of those 4 played up to their billing last year and all were inconsistent. They get much younger this year, but with leader and super-star Jalen Ramsey back, as well as a lot of young talent if they can overcome the inconsistencies from a year ago they should be able to have an improved defense over last years (which after being a top 5 defense the previous 3 years, fell off significantly).

Overall – Coach Jimbo Fisher is putting together a nice run with 3 straight ACC championships, a host of top 5 recruiting classes, and a host of NFL draft picks, as well as a 39-3 record the last 3 years (27-1 the last 2). Quite an impressive run! This is a rebuilding year for FSU, but how far they fall will depend on how quickly the young talent gets up to College speed and adjusts. One of the more intriguing teams in the country this year as their talent says they can compete for a playoff spot, but their inexperience and youth says they could be far from that.

ACC Win Shares: 6.33 (prediction 7-1)

Overall Win Shares: 9.88 (prediction 10-2)


North Carolina State (4.07):

Offense – Much like FSU and Clemson, NC St will go as far as their QB can take them. Jacoby Brissett had an up and down season last year. At times looking like a future NFL QB, and at times look like the QB who lost a position battle at UF. The talent around him will be improved; however it is not much to write home about. If he puts it all together in year 2, NC State should be a very good offense and one of the better ones in the ACC.

Defense – Defensively NC St has been steadily improving their talent level, however they are still not on the level where they can consistently compete with FSU and Clemson. Their defense should be much better than it was last year (which was pretty bad), and should be good enough if their offense stays consistent that they can have a top 25 team.

Overall – Coach Dave Doeren has steadily improved at NC State over the last 2 years and should take another step forward this year as he upgrades the roster and builds NC State into a top 25 caliber team. He still has some work to do, especially if he wants to challenge Clemson and FSU, but he should take a big enough step this year to be the third best team in the ACC Atlantic (and potentially ACC overall). However he will go as far as his QB can take him.

ACC Win Shares: 3.89 (prediction 5-3)

Overall Win Shares: 7.45 (prediction 9-3)


Louisville (3.90):

Offense – Louisville enters a rebuilding phase, as coach Bobby Petrino rebuilds Louisville’s roster to fit his wants. Louisville lost 3 very good skill position players and a few offensive linemen. However those players carried Louisville’s offense last year.  Will Gardner at QB was less than impressive.  Petrino is known for offensive juggernauts; however it might take him another year or 2 before he can build that at Louisville. I do think Petrino will build a good team at Louisville, but they are at least 2 years away from really being able to compete with the big boys of the ACC.

Defense – Defensively Louisville has had a consistently elite squad over the last 2-3 years. Charlie Strong may have moved on last year, but there was not much of a drop off in how their defense played. However they lost even more players from Strong’s defensive powerhouse this off-season. They should still be good defensively, but not good enough to carry the offense like they have been in the past (even if they didn’t have to carry the offense with Bridgewater). They will still have one of the better back 7’s in the ACC, but it will not be nationally elite.

Overall – Coach Bobby Petrino is known for turning teams around and building them into top 10-15 programs. He has done it before at Louisville. I do think he will get there with Louisville again, but they will be rebuilding this year as they lost a lot of players over the last 2-3 years. Quite frankly Louisville is not a program that can continue to reload after loses like that. They will be far from a bad team, but they will take a big step back this year.

ACC Win Shares: 3.83 (prediction 4-4)

Overall Win Shares: 6.82 (prediction 7-5)


Boston College (3.66):

Offense – Last year Boston College was bolstered by a very experienced Offensive Line that was able to control almost every game. They controlled the clock and kept opposing defenses off the field, allowing them to stay in games. This year those 5th year seniors are gone and replaced with a very young line. They will still be well coached, but they will take a HUGE step back this year on offense. They also lost a QB who was able to make plays when needed last year in Tyler Murphy. Replacing him will not be so easy either. Their skill position players are better than one might think at BC and are really the strength of the offense this year.

Defense – They have decent enough talent on the defensive line that should keep them from getting rolled over, even against the better offensive lines in the ACC. However the rest of the defense just isn’t where it will need to be to keep them in games while their Offense gains needed experience. But should be one of the worse units in the ACC.

Overall – Coach Steve Addazio has worked wonders at Boston College the last 2 years and being much better than many think. However he was relying on a lot of older transfers and 5th year senior types. It will be interesting to see how things go with mostly his own recruits this year and without a significant advantage in the experience department. I don’t expect them to completely fall off this year, but a big step back from last year should be expected (even if not seen in the record).

ACC Win Shares: 3.22 (prediction 3-5)

Overall Win Shares: 6.18 (prediction 6-6)

Syracuse (3.64):

Offense – Syracuse offense last year was very stagnant; they could never find a QB to take hold of the starting job. This year it appears that Terrell Hunt has finally taken a step forward and grabbed the starting spot. That should help their offenses’ consistency. However they are still pretty far behind in terms of talent. Don’t look for much out of this group.

Defense – Syracuse fielded a pretty good defense last year. This year shouldn’t be much different as they have talent on the Defensive Line (always a good starting point for a good defense). The defense will be better than the offense again this year, and should keep them competitive in most games.

Overall – Coach Shafer started his tenure in Syracuse with a Bowl invite. They took a major step back last year finishing 3-9. Expect more of the same this year with a slightly better team.

ACC Win Shares: 3.01 (prediction 2-6)

Overall Win Shares: 5.47 (prediction 4-8)


Wake Forest (3.20):

Offense – Wake Forest had one of the worst offenses in the nation last year. It was quite awful. I expect some improvement this year however not enough to make any significant steps forward.

Defense – Wake Forest like Syracuse fielded a pretty good defense last year (Wake had a better defense, but their offense was much worse). However Wake lost some significant talent (including a first round pick in the Defensive backfield) to the NFL. They should still have a notable defense this year, but it is going to have to be elite to make up for the lack of offense, and they just don’t have the horses for that.

Overall – Coach Clawson is in his 2nd year at Wake Forest. He did not have a very good first year and has an uphill battle at Wake Forest to get the talent needed to compete. Wake Forest is in the bottom 5 of talent at every positional group in the ACC. I expect another season at the bottom of the ACC as Clawson tries to build up the Wake Forest talent level.

ACC Win Shares: 2.01 (prediction 0-8)

Overall Win Shares: 4.2 (prediction 3-9)



Miami (4.2):

Offense – With QB Brad Kaaya returning after a very promising Freshman season, there is a lot to look forward to for Miami’s offense. Possessing one of the more talented Offensive Lines and as always plenty of skill players to get the ball too, Miami is in good position. They do have to replace 3 departed NFL players at the skill positions, however with Junior Stacey Coley at WR, Sophomore Joseph Yearby at RB, they have the talent to do so. This should be a top 5 offense in the ACC.

Defense – This is where Miami has seriously been upgrading their talent level in recent years.  No it is not at Dynasty Miami levels, but it is better than it has been at any time under Coach Golden, particularly in the back 7.

Overall – Miami has underperformed woefully since they joined the ACC a decade ago, and still have not played in an ACC championship game. I think this is the team that breaks through and does it.  The Coastal division is wide open with very little separating the teams in terms of talent and experience. This is Miami’s most talented team since Al Golden arrived.  Could potentially be a top 25 team.

ACC Win Shares: 4.19 (prediction 5-3)

Overall Win Shares: 7.28 (prediction 8-4)


Georgia Tech (4.2):

Offense – Georgia Tech lost every skill position player that played a significant role last year. However they return one of the better OL in the ACC and a terrific QB (for their system) in Justin Thomas.  He is very adept at running Coach Paul Johnson’s offense. He alone is a big head-ache for opposing Defensive Coordinators.  It will be tough to replace the 2 big WRs from last year, but that is something that Paul Johnson has been able to do fairly easily in his time there. This offense should light it up again, although it won’t be as good as last year.

Defense – Perhaps the biggest reason for GT’s come-uppance last year was an improved defense. However they lost quite a few key players from that defense last year.  I expect them to take a step back as traditionally in Coach Johnson’s tenure they have had a pretty crappy defense. I don’t think this will be a bad defense, but it won’t be as good as last year and will not be good enough to see them top 15 in the nation again.

Overall – Coach Paul Johnson with his Triple Option offense is very adept at taking lesser talent and beating the big boys. His offense puts a lot of heat on defenses, and you can’t take one play off. As always under Paul Johnson the offense will be tough to stop and that will be good enough to see them into a bowl game. They should challenge for the Coastal championship, I have them falling just short of Miami (losing head to head matchup).

ACC Win Shares: 3.77 (prediction 5-3)

Overall Win Shares: 6.44 (prediction 7-5)


North Carolina (3.92):

Offense – UNC had a very prolific offense last year as Coach Larry Fedora starts to get his recruits in there to run his system. They have one of the top returning ACC Quarterbacks and what potentially could be the best OL in the ACC. This offense should challenge Clemson, FSU, and GT for the best offense in the ACC. The offense is good enough to see UNC as a top 25 team.

Defense – This is where UNC was hurting last year. Their defense was not good at all, giving up 70 points to a group of 5 school (ECU). It simply wasn’t good enough. It should take a step forward this year and be a bit better, but still not good. However it performs well enough then UNC will challenge Miami and GT for the Coastal title and could challenge Clemson or FSU for the ACC championship.

Overall – Coach Fedora has been here for 3 years. Each year people expect UNC to take a step forward and be a top 25 team. They have the talent to do so. However each year UNC has failed to live up to that hype. This is probably the least hyped UNC team since Fedora got here. However I think it will end up being the best. Expect them to make it to their 3rd straight Bowl game under Fedora (was ineligible his first season).

ACC Win Shares: 4.3 (prediction 4-4)

Overall Win Shares: 7.59 (prediction 8-4)


Duke (3.89):

Offense – Duke continues to surprise every year. They lose some key players from last year’s stellar offense including the leader and QB. However QB is a position that one should not worry about too much under Coach Cutcliffe. They return what should be a good OL (despite losing a first round pick), and a couple good skill position players. Once again should be a good offense that can move the ball against most defenses.

Defense – This is where Duke has stepped up the last 2 years and saw them to their best teams since Steve Spurrier was roaming the sidelines. Defense is where the talent level has really stepped up recently. Their defense will take a small step back, but still be decent.

Overall – Coach David Cutcliffe has really stepped it up at Duke and has been to 3 straight bowl games (losing all of them). Prior to that Duke had NEVER made it to a bowl game in back to back seasons IN THEIR HISTORY. So this really is new ground for Duke. I expect more of the same this year. They will be a good team and will make some noise, but will come up short at the end (Coastal Title race).

ACC Win Shares: 3.79 (prediction 4-4)

Overall Win Shares: 6.79 (prediction 8-4)


Virginia Tech (3.83):

Offense – The last few years Virginia Tech has failed to put a good product on the field on this side of the ball. However they return almost their entire offense from a year ago and have transfer Michael Brewer at QB. They should be much improved on offense this year. Like NC St, they should go as far as Michael Brewer takes them. Which could be pretty far, but might not be far at all.

Defense – This is where Virginia Tech makes their money. They always have a stout defense. This year should be no different with perhaps the best Defensive line in the ACC, as well as one of the best Corners in the nation. Look for them to be able to limit any offense in the country under DC Bud Foster’s aggressive schemes.

Overall – Coach Frank Beamer has been one of the better modern day coaches over the last 2 decades and has built Virginia Tech into a household name. However over the last few years his teams have been plagued by inconsistencies and some bad losses.  I don’t think this year will be any different. They should be good enough and could make a run at the Coastal title, but I suspect they will probably lose a few head-scratchers.

ACC Win Shares: 3.98 (prediction 4-4)

Overall Win Shares: 6.37 (prediction 6-6)


Pittsburgh (3.89):

Offense – Pittsburgh has the returning ACC offensive player of the year in RB James Conner, paired with one of the best OL’s in the ACC and a good QB. As always Pitt looks very good on paper. However every year something happens and they start losing games that they should not. On paper this should be one of the best offenses in the ACC, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it vastly under performs.

Defense – Like most Pitt defenses this one should have a good Defensive line, but lacking in skill players on defense. This defense could hold back the potentially prolific offense. However with a Head Coach known for great defenses at Michigan St, this could be the reason Pitt overcomes the hurdle and finally plays up to potential.

Overall – This is year one for Pat Narduzzi as the Head Coach at Pitt. He is known for his great defenses at Michigan St. If he can bring some of that to Pitt, with the Offensive players/OL they have, they could be a top 25 team. But as always with a first year coach, you never know what can happen. I expect Pitt to look very good in some games and pull of some upsets that people aren’t expecting, but also to falter in other games they should dominate in.

ACC Win Shares: 4.19 (prediction 3-5)

Overall Win Shares: 6.76 (prediction 6-6)


Virginia (4.02):

Offense – This was a very inconsistent offense last year, with a new QB and new skill position players I wouldn’t expect much different. They have an experienced OL that should help ease the burden on the QB. The talent level on this offense is not close to the level of the talent on their defense which is close to elite.

Defense – UVA is perhaps the 2nd most talented defense in the ACC after Florida State. They played very well last year, pulling off some upsets and some other near upsets based on the play of this unit. They have would potentially could be an SEC caliber Defensive Line and a very good Defensive Backfield. If it all comes together this could be an elite defense in the country (top 10).

Overall – Coach Mike London is in his 6th year at Virginia and has had mixed results. He has been to one bowl, when no one really expected them to go, and almost went last year when people expected them to be awful. The other years they underperformed based on expectations. This is perhaps the most talented team Coach London has had since he has been there and there is certainly enough talent to win the Coastal. However they could also finish last in the Coastal (where I have them finishing).

ACC Win Shares: 4.17 (prediction 3-5)

Overall Win Shares: 6.37 (prediction 6-6)


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